Humor is one of those things in life that is wonderful when it works and awkward when it doesn’t. Just think of a time when a joke you told got a laugh from everyone in the room. Then compare it to another time when your wit was met with blank stares and offended looks. In the workplace, especially, humor has been blamed for some pretty big upsets, causing it to become a sensitive subject around the office.
But research indicates that workplace laughter has its benefits. Chris Robert, a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, published his findings about workplace humor in the Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management journal. In a Business Week article, Robert explained that “the link between humor and positive emotions seems strong, which is intuitive, and there’s also a strong correlation between positive emotions and workplace performance.” So it might be time to consider how humor could actually help your business. It can help you build your relationships, but can also go a long way with your internal team.
Look for it in your top talent: There are many qualities to look for in potential employees, and many characteristics depend on the position you’re attempting to fill. But, if you’re looking to add an intelligent or creative person to your team, you may also want to take notice of their humorous side. According to Robert, the ability to be humorous is “associated with intelligence and creativity, two things highly valued in workplaces.” The reason for that is because of what humor is. “We find jokes or comments funny because they are linking two things together – perhaps through a punch line – that you wouldn’t normally link together,” Roberts explains. “That’s what creativity is, too: Putting things together in a unique way.” For those in high-stress jobs or leadership roles, laughter and banter with co-workers can be a great relief. At the same time, having an enjoyable work environment can appeal to top talent. The Wall Street Journal published that “mixing laughter and fun into a company culture can attract skilled workers.”
Use it to cut down on turnover: Embracing humor within your company also can help to reduce your employee turnover. Business Week reported “joking around on the job can actually have a positive effect on productivity and employee retention.” The Wall Street Journal highlighted a Pennsylvania State University study which found that “a good laugh activates the same regions of the brain that light up over a fat bonus check.” And that makes sense if you think about it. As Robert says, “If you have positive emotions about your job, you’re less likely to quit.”
Don’t take yourself too seriously: Obviously, creating a workplace that employees enjoy is going to improve the work environment. But leaders can use a specific type of humor to improve their reputation among, and relationships with, their employees. “One trait that consistently ranks highly among the most admired leaders is they’re confident enough to poke fun at themselves,” reported Forbes. “Smart leaders have long recognized the best punchline – themselves.” The Leadership & Organization Development Journal found that “executives and managers who use self-deprecating humor appear more approachable and human to subordinates.”
Like anything, humor should be used in moderation, tastefully, and in accordance to your business culture. But when an expectation is set that a business or department isn’t fun to be a part of, productivity, turnover, and recruiting will all be impacted. Why not see if a little bit of joking and laughter could help your business and employees’ performance? You might even enjoy work a little more yourself.
• Terri Greeno owns Express Employment Professionals in Crystal Lake.